Eric J. Welsh,
Shane Claridge once said that he would never play for the Valley Huskers, so it was surprising when his name came up as a latest local kid to sign with the junior football club.
“I did say that,” Claridge admitted. “But coach Bob (Reist) is a huge reason why I changed my mind. His positivity and the culture and atmosphere that he’s bringing in is a huge difference from the way it was before.”
The defensive back is due to graduate this June after a successful run with the GW Graham Grizzlies.
The teenager was hoping to have a college scholarship in hand coming out of high school, but the right fit wasn’t there. When Claridge decided to follow the junior football route for a year or two, Reist had his recruiting pitch ready.
“I chose the program solely because Bob is an incredible DB coach and his background is in defense, which is where my passion is,” Claridge said. “Having a head coach who understands the importance of D will bring me back up the level where I was, and I can continue to develop as a player.
“Coach Bob is a really passionate guy who understands exactly what I need. He is 100 per cent the reason I chose the Huskers.”
Claridge was one the players affected the most when a huge chunk of the GWG coaching staff left for Sardis secondary last off-season. He had a strong connection with Adam Smith, now the Falcons head coach, and Sardis assistant coach Austin Harvey was a valued voice with a mind for defense.
The 2017 GWG coaching staff led by Luke Acheson and Laurie Smith has a long track record of success, but it was offense-centric and Claridge felt that affected his development.
“We were lacking defensive coaches last year, especially a DB coach, which is my position,” Claridge said. “It was a struggle every day knowing I was getting worse throughout the year without that defensive back coach.”
Reist, a former all-star defensive back with the now defunct Abbotsford Air Force and a former DB coach at the U Sports level with the University of Manitoba Bisons, started helping out with the Grizzlies around mid-season. In the short time Claridge worked with Reist, he said he learned a ton about footwork and reading defenses.
“Bob teaches me the small things, like the way a receiver lines up, his strong and weak points and his tendencies,” Claridge said. “There was a game against Argyle. I forget his name, but No. 13 always had his left foot forward when he ran slants, and his right foot forward when he ran deeper routes. In that game I knew what he was doing before he even did it.”
Teacher and student also talked a lot about staying cool in the heat of battle, something Claridge admits he has struggled with.
“Honestly, the best way to stay calm is to tell yourself to stay calm,” the 17 year old explained. “The word calm itself is a calm word, so when tell yourself consistently to stay calm, it naturally brings you to this calm place and gets you into your zone.
“Think one play at a time. If you mess up one play, go into the next play and forget about it.”
Early in the season, Claridge said he was dwelling on mistakes, which made him nervous and tense as the game continued. But by the time his Grizzlies met the Windsor Dukes in November for the 2017 B.C. High School Football semi-final at B.C. Place, Claridge was channeling his inner Zen master.
“I started off a little rough and my coverage was weird,” he recalled. “They (Dukes) changed their game-plan on us and we weren’t prepared for what they were doing. But after talking to Bob, he calmed me down and I did so much better in the second half.”
Since the high school football season ended, Claridge has continued to work with Reist, and he’s excited about the direction the Huskers seem to be pointed in. From the commitment of Von Richardson to the bidding-war win for four Manitoba Bisons, Reist’s offseason has been spectacular on paper.
Claridge followed the Huskers last summer/fall, and even as the team lurched to another 0-10 season, he saw positive signs.
“You could tell on the defensive side, how they were clicking as a team and not just as individuals,” he said. “Bob is a lot like Adam (Smith), how they are and what atmosphere they bring in. I can feel that same vibe. Bob wants to get better and he brings a high level of accountability. He’s going to do the work if we’re going to do the work.
“And I’ve heard about the guys who are coming to Chilliwack this year and I think they’re going to be great assets for the team.”